The Kid Is Innocent
Photo by Myles RobinsonJail corridors. The light gave no shadows. From some distant part of the building came the sounds of a man shouting indistinctly. Echoes, doors closing. The attorney and I looked at each other, a silent countdown, then walked down the corridor to the row of visitor booths. We exchanged a couple of meaningless words. After a time, the prisoner came and sat on the other side of the thick glass.
Arthur Paul Carmona. Now 17 years old, medium height and weight, black hair. A child's smooth, not-yet-formed face. A kid. Fond of skateboarding, football, volleyball, cartoons. Fond of T-shirts and jeans. Now wearing a jail jump suit. I do not know how thick the glass was between us—thick enough, though, to hold back any sounds or smells, to refract the light in such a way that everything on the other side of it seemed to waver, as remote as the bottom of a swimming pool. And behind it sat Arthur, his eyes wide, like those of a diver who had just plunged from a high tower.
We spoke through the glass by means of a telephone. I was constrained by his lawyer in terms of what I might ask him, but asking anything seemed for some reason a difficult proposition.
How are you doing?
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v Cincinnati Reds
TicketsMon., Aug. 29, 7:05pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Cincinnati Reds
TicketsMon., Aug. 29, 7:05pm
Premium Seating: Los Angeles Angels v TEXAS RANGERS
TicketsFri., Sep. 9, 7:05pm
Los Angeles Angels vs. Texas Rangers
TicketsFri., Sep. 9, 7:05pm
Having any problems inside?
How do you pass the time?
What exactly do you say to a 17-year-old boy who may be a 29-year-old man before he emerges again into the world? And thus, the conversation wound on and wound down.
"I've been keeping up with my schoolwork," Arthur said. "I would like to go to college."
I had to turn away. At my side, the lawyer stirred. And down the long, bright distant corridors, the shouting erupted once more, troubled and indistinct. I kept the phone to my ear, but I wasn't sure I could bear to hear anything more.
"My dream is to become a chef," Arthur said softly from behind the thick glass.
A room of documents. They lie in piles around your desk: witness statements, police reports, forensic studies, press clippings, interview notes, records of phone calls, a trial transcript in three volumes. New material arrives and is added to the files. A time line listing the events of Feb. 12, 1998. A transcribed dialogue from the interrogation that followed those events. A report on how Sherlock, the tracking dog, responded (or did not respond) to scents (or lack of scents) in the getaway car. The findings of private investigators who interviewed potential witnesses.
Notebooks. Folders. Words following words. Dates, times, sequences. Finally, you understand that ordinary life is a conspiracy of sequences, that it unfolds personal history according to its own logic. You understand how one sequence leads irrevocably to another. Its own logic. The sequence that led Arthur Paul Carmona to this point in his history. That is why these documents are here; that is why you keep going back to the events of Feb. 12, 1998.
What happened then:
Walid Abdel-Samad was working the counter at the Juice Club in a shopping center at Harvard and Main in Irvine. A winter day, with scattered overcast clouds and rain later. The place sells snacks and fruit smoothies, like Banana Berry, Cranberry Craze, Razzmatazz. Early in the afternoon, Abdel-Samad noticed a young Hispanic man outside the store, standing near the sidewalk bench, looking in the window. This man went away, returned a bit later, sat on the bench, then walked off again. Shortly after 3:30 p.m., he returned once more and entered the store. Abdel-Samad would later recall a number of details about his appearance. A thin moustache and dark, very short hair. Maybe 15 to 18 years old. Wearing blue jeans, a sweat jacket with a white stripe on it, and bright-white tennis shoes. A black Lakers cap on his head. Black backpack.
Abdel-Samad was standing at the cash register; he looked at the young man, meaning, "Can I help you?" But the young man walked over to a snack display against the wall, picked up a couple of snacks, looked at them and put them back. He was holding a dollar bill in one hand. He took out his wallet and opened it. Abdel-Samad could see that the wallet was empty.
Something about all of this seemed strange to Abdel-Samad. Just a feeling. He opened the register and removed all the 20s and 50s and took them to a locked room at the back of the store. When he returned to the register, two women were waiting for him. He took their orders, and then he and the other two employees started making their smoothies. The young man was still standing there with the empty wallet and the Lakers cap and the thin moustache. Now he stepped up to the counter and put the dollar bill he'd been holding on top of the register.
"I need quarters," he said.
Abdel-Samad opened the register. The young man was maybe 3 feet away from him—"arm's length" is the way Abdel-Samad would later put it. The young man reached into the backpack and took out a gun, the barrel of which he pushed into Abdel-Samad's chest.
"Put the money in the bag," the young man said. One of the other employees started to walk toward him. "Get the fuck back," he ordered, and right away, the other employee stepped back and put his hands up.
Abdel-Samad took all the money out of the register—$343.86 is the amount that would later be determined—and put it in the backpack. He lifted up the drawer to show that there was nothing more. "Everybody get down on the floor," the young man said coolly. Everybody got down on the floor.
When they heard his footsteps going out the door, they got up and called 911.
Arthur Carmona got up at about 10 that morning. His mom had already left for work. There was no school that day, so he lay in bed for a while and watched cartoons. Then he ironed some clothes, took a shower, cleaned his room, watched some more TV, and listened to some music. Easing into the day.
Arthur had just turned 16. He lived in an apartment off Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa with his sister and his mom, who is separated from his father. Sports-minded. Average student (which is actually an accomplishment, since he has a bit of a learning disorder and had been in some special-education classes). Shy. A decent-sized kid, about 5-foot-10, 165 pounds. His hair is black; at the time, he was wearing it shaved pretty close to the scalp—probably a No. 1 if you know your barbering tools. Goatee. Bad acne. Basically your typical kid. No really serious run-ins with the police. Once, he was stopped by a school security guard and found to be carrying a small bat, but that was handled without charges. Another time, he got a ticket for riding his bike without wearing a helmet.
Starting at about 1 p.m., as he would later recount it, Arthur got on the phone and talked with some friends. One of them was Edwin Martinez; they talked about maybe going to visit a girl they knew later that day. Between calls, Arthur listened to music. He had it turned up pretty loud, and the guy who lived upstairs had to pound on the floor to get him to turn it down. Sometime between 2 and 3 p.m., there was a knock on the door. Arthur answered it and talked for a moment with Janett Cortez, who had stopped by to pick up Arthur's sister. At about 3 p.m., Arthur called his friend Paul Millan. They talked for about five minutes, but Paul was in a rush because his mother, his brother and another friend were waiting for him in the car outside his house.
the Juice Club was in a row of shops, alongside a video store, a flower shop and a coffee place. Across Veneto from the row of shops was a Texaco gas station. As he was gassing up, Irvine resident Kenneth Cashion noticed an older-model pickup painted primer-gray parked beside the station. A man was behind the wheel as if waiting for someone. Finished at the pump, Cashion was just starting to drive away when he saw a young Hispanic running across Veneto toward the gray pickup. He was wearing a black coat with white stripes, and he was carrying a black bag. Cashion lost sight of him for a moment but then saw the gray pickup pull out onto Main Street, the driver leaning toward his right as if he were talking to a passenger.
Something clicked in Cashion's brain, and he wrote down the license-plate number. He did this on a check stub, the only thing he had handy.
He heard sirens coming his way.
Arthur Carmona left the apartment around 3:30 p.m. He was going to go visit a friend, Roy Bueno, who lived with his family in Costa Mesa north of Baker, west of Fairview and just south of the 405 freeway. Arthur rode his bike north on Harbor Boulevard and then east on Baker across Fairview.
Irvine police officers arrived at the Juice Club moments after the call came in. They took Abdel-Samad's statement and description of the robber. They also got descriptions from the other two employees, Joseph Kim and Samuel Ku, and from the two women customers, Janet Hildabrand and Stephanie Schwartz. The descriptions varied widely. Kim described the robber as a male Hispanic, about 6 feet tall, 165 pounds with a slim face and body, wearing a baseball cap and black pants. Ku described him as about 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, wearing a black cap. Hildabrand and Schwartz described him as about 5-foot-4 and 110 pounds.
While police were puzzling over this, Cashion ran up. He told them what he'd seen. He gave them the plate number he'd written on a check stub.
The plate number was run through the computer. This returned a name, that of a 33-year-old Hawaiian named Shawn Kaiwi, and an address, an apartment at 1000 South Coast Dr. in Costa Mesa. By a little after 4 p.m., police officers from both Irvine and Costa Mesa had arrived there. They spotted the truck. As a ruse, they had an apartment manager call Kaiwi at his apartment and tell him the truck was about to be towed because it didn't have a proper parking sticker. A few moments later, Kaiwi himself walked out to the truck.
He was detained.
He told police a story: he'd been at a gas station when a guy got into his car with a gun "and said to take me down the freeway and drop me off, and if I told anything to anybody, he'd kill me." That got some looks. The police searched his apartment and found a black backpack, a 9 mm pistol reported stolen five years earlier in Meridian, Mississippi, and a Juice Club cup. In the truck, they found a Lakers cap.
Kaiwi's apartment was about four miles from the Juice Club, just west of South Coast Plaza and north of the Y formed by the San Diego and 73 freeways. On the other side of the 73 freeway, in her home on Cheyenne Street in a trim little Costa Mesa neighborhood, Christine Hoffman was lying on the sofa, watching TV. The way she was lying, she could look out through the French doors across her yard. At the back of the yard, there was a rising slope covered with grass and trees. At the top of the slope stood the sound wall separating the neighborhood from the 73 freeway. Around the time police were heading toward Kaiwi's apartment, Hoffman saw a young male Hispanic appear at the top of the sound wall and drop down to the slope at the back of her yard. He was wearing a dark cap and a long-sleeved white shirt with a dark-colored T-shirt over that. He started running south, skirting the other back yards.
Hoffman called the police.
It was after he'd crossed Fairview and was on his way to Roy's house that Arthur first saw the police. Hoffman's house was only a few blocks away, so police were on patrol looking for the young Hispanic male she had seen climb over the sound wall. Arthur didn't know this, of course, but the police presence did make him nervous. He had already gotten one ticket for riding his bike without wearing a helmet, and he didn't want another one. His friend Frank Roldan lived nearby on Mendoza Drive, and he headed there. When he knocked on the door, Frank was vacuuming the carpet. Arthur explained the situation and asked if he could leave his bike. Frank said sure. Arthur made a quick phone call to Paul Millan, then left on foot. (For the next couple of months, unremarked upon by either police or defense investigators, the bike would remain there. Then, when Frank's family moved, it would be given to another friend and then would become lost for good.)
Arthur left Frank's house and walked north into the neighborhood where Roy Bueno lived. It was a little after 4 p.m.
Costa Mesa police officer Dennis Sanders was one of the officers patrolling the neighborhood south of the 405 and 73 interchange. Aware of the robbery at the Juice Club, aware as well that Hoffman had seen someone climbing over the sound wall behind her house, just a few blocks away, Sanders was looking for a suspect. The police helicopter overhead directed him toward one, a young man walking along the sidewalk near the intersection of Pierce Avenue and Concord Street.
Sanders pulled up beside him in his squad car.
He told him to stop.
At some point, he pulled out his gun.
He asked him his name.
"Arthur Carmona," the young man said.
A year and a half later, scores of pages of police reports later, several volumes of trial transcripts later, it remains unclear why the police zeroed in on Arthur, other than the fact that he happened to be walking in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. The description of the Juice Club robber broadcast over police radios was this: "young Hispanic male, wearing a baseball hat and a dark jacket and carrying a backpack." Later, after Hoffman called to report the man climbing over the sound wall, the police may have amended this description to include the possibility that the suspect might be wearing a dark T-shirt. (No official record of this has yet surfaced, however.) Regardless, the fact is that when he was stopped, Arthur was not wearing a hat, he was not wearing a dark jacket, and he was not carrying a backpack. He did have on a dark T-shirt. "Young Hispanic male wearing a dark T-shirt." That description fit a number of people in the area at that time, as police later admitted. For that matter, it probably fit hundreds if not thousands of people within, say, a radius of a couple of miles.
Police figured that the robber had just run from Kaiwi's apartment, dashed across the 73 freeway, climbed the sound wall behind Hoffman's house—a distance of about a mile. But Arthur was not out of breath.
Police figured that the robber had dropped from the sound wall and then made his way south through the dirt and brush. But neither Arthur's clothes nor his shoes were dirty.
Still, he was stopped. Sanders questioned him. What are you doing? Where are you going? Where have you been? Unaware of Arthur's disability, Sanders found his answers vague and hesitant and, thus, suspicious.
The helicopter battered the sky above. The radios crackled urgently. Other squad cars arrived. The array of police around Arthur grew tight and massive.
Things now begin to take on a certain surreal quality, fast and vivid and existing somewhere in that slim borderland between tragedy and comedy.
Witnesses from the Juice Club were brought to the scene to look at Arthur. They couldn't be sure: it's a truism that people of one race have difficulty differentiating the features of someone of another race; moreover, the suspect they were looking at was dressed completely differently from the robber. Abdel-Samad, the Juice Club cashier, came the closest: he was 80 percent sure Arthur was the robber. Hoffman was brought to the scene as well, even though she'd only gotten a quick look from 50 yards away at the man who climbed over the sound wall. Now it was dusk, and it was raining. Sitting in a police car the length of a house distant from the suspect, she was asked if Arthur was the man she'd seen. She couldn't be sure either. She asked if Arthur had been wearing a hat.
At this point, police did a very curious thing.
In Kaiwi's apartment, they'd found a Lakers cap. That cap might have contained sweat, hair fibers and skin residue upon which DNA tests could be performed to reveal the identity of the person who had worn it. But instead of sealing the hat away until those tests could be completed, police brought it to the scene of Arthur's arrest.
And then one of the officers placed the hat on Arthur's head.
Now Hoffman was convinced this was the man she had seen climbing the sound wall. Now Abdel-Samad was 100 percent sure this was the robber.
Other curious events were to follow. Found in Kaiwi's apartment were the 9 mm pistol used in the robbery, a couple of electronic devices that proved to be walkie-talkies, and a used Juice Club cup. Since all of the witnesses agreed that the robber hadn't worn gloves, it was a reasonable assumption that his fingerprints would turn up. Arthur's fingerprints were found on none of the items. Arthur's fingerprints were not found at the Juice Club or on the door of the primer-gray pickup truck in which the robber was driven away or on a CD found in the pickup. Even Sherlock, the police bloodhound, was unable to link Arthur to any of the physical evidence in the case: given Arthur's scent from his T-shirt, Sherlock was then unable to identify that scent in the primer-gray pickup.
Ultimately, none of that was to matter. The cap had been placed on Arthur's head, and he was charged with the crime.
That evening, Arthur was interrogated by two Irvine police investigators, Gary Cain and Larry Montgomery.
"Would you like to talk to us about what happened today?" Cain asked him.
"Yeah? That was yes?"
"Okay," Cain went on. "Basically, it's our understanding that the Juice Club . . . was robbed by somebody with a gun matching your description. We had several people go over to where you were stopped in Costa Mesa, and they said you were the guy who did it. Now, we have a lot of questions. We think there might have been somebody else involved; we're not sure. We'd like to hear what your side of the story is on this. Why don't you go ahead and tell us what went down . . . and what we need to know about it."
"I don't know anything about that," Arthur told him.
"You know," Cain replied, "we want nothing from you but the truth. We don't want you to be trying to shine us on. We've got a lot of people. We got people who identified you."
"I'm telling you the truth straight-up," Arthur said.
Okay, that was the good-cop routine, and it had failed. The investigators now tried tough-cop.
"Let me tell you something," Montgomery said. "You can lie to us if you want. We'll put all that information down, and we'll go to the judge. . . ."
Arthur broke in. "I'm not lying."
"We can absolutely, positively prove that you were in the truck," Montgomery went on, bluffing with a lie he hoped would cause the suspect to cave in. "We can absolutely, positively prove that you were there and committed the robbery. . . . You won't talk to us—I understand that—and you'll lie to us, and we'll just put that information down, let the judge make the decision once they get all the information 'cause we can prove that you were there, and we've got video showing you at the gas station running into the truck. . . . We've already looked at the video, and it's you, and it's him."
Arthur continued to insist he was telling the truth. And that's the way the interrogation went: the police alternately cajoling and threatening and Arthur maintaining insistently that he was just on his way to see a friend and knew nothing about a robbery.
The veteran investigators were unable to shake the 16-year-old suspect. Arthur denied knowing Kaiwi. He insisted he had nothing to do with the robbery. He told them about some of the calls he had made before leaving home. He tried to describe for them the route he had taken to Roy's house but couldn't remember the names of streets—couldn't, for that matter, remember Roy's address. Probably he was nervous, and probably he simply didn't know Roy's address because he was used to walking to it. But it all made the police even more suspicious. Arthur also didn't tell them about dropping off his bike at Frank's house. It's hard sometimes to know how a 16-year-old's mind works. Maybe he was trying to keep Frank uninvolved. Maybe it was something as simple as the fact that in his nervousness and with his disability, he was feeling so pressed that he . . . just forgot.
He was put in a holding cell for later transfer to jail.
It was 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1998, when Ronnie Carmona got the phone call, when she listened to the police officer telling her that her son had been arrested for armed robbery, when she slumped against the wall in the winter-dim apartment, when she waited for the words to rearrange themselves magically into some other sentence that might make more sense, when she thought, "How could this be? How could this be?"
The first thing she did was page her sister, Mona Ruiz, who is a police officer with the Santa Ana Police Department. Ruiz called the Costa Mesa Police Department, identified herself as a fellow officer and Arthur's aunt, and talked with a supervisor. He asked her if she knew Kaiwi, if he might be related to the family in some way. He asked if Arthur might have had access to her weapons. The supervisor seemed confused and uncertain, Ruiz remembers, about why exactly Arthur had been arrested.
That call finished, Ruiz and Carmona talked through much of the night. They repeated to each other the refrain that had first come to Carmona on the phone with the police: "How could this be?" They questioned each other about every aspect of Arthur's life. And none of it made any sense. Carmona and Ruiz had been in gangs when they were younger, and both had made it out. They had relatives touched by violence. And because of this, they had both taken special care with Arthur, trying to give him decent values, always trying to counsel him away from the evil that could so easily sweep up children. And they were sure they had succeeded. Arthur respected the law and the police. If his friends would complain that you couldn't trust the police because they were always hassling you, Arthur would say, no, that's not true, my aunt's a cop, and she doesn't do that. He had never shown a particular interest in guns. There were only those couple of times when he got in trouble, and that wasn't major trouble anyway. He had a sense of responsibility: when his mom and dad had first separated and money was real tight, he had gone out and taken a job. He had become involved in his aunt's church. He looked after his sister. He respected his 10 p.m. curfew. He wasn't a great student, but that past year, he had been really trying and was getting B's and C's.
How could this be?
Through the night, they talked of the Arthur they knew. The Arthur who was so shy and reserved with strangers. Could he have walked into a store and pointed a gun at someone's chest and demanded the money?
It couldn't be.
And yet, there remained in the back of the mind the little, evil, nagging worry.
And so, when Carmona first went to see her son in jail, she sat down across from him and looked him square in the face. She did not know any good way to ask the question she had to ask. But she had to hear him say it, and so, finally, she just came out with it.
The pain that flashed across his features haunts her still. The unspoken accusation: Mom, how could you even have to ask me?
There was one question that never required asking.
It happens often, the world being what it is, that the child, the beloved hijo, is arrested. And the mother weeps and tears her hair, and the friends gather 'round and wonder how this could have happened. But in the end, the whole system seems too daunting, too remote, too much a part of some other world. And finally, they shrug in resignation. The will of God.
But in this case, there was never any question of that. The two sisters, Ruiz and Carmona, had fought hard for what they'd accomplished in their own lives, both fighting their way out of the gang lifestyle that eats up so many Latinos. They had fought hard for Arthur's life, too, and now they did not intend to see it torn away without another fight.
They hired a private investigator: Dave Marshall, a former Santa Ana police officer whom Ruiz knew. Marshall made a promising beginning. Trying to establish an alibi, he tracked down some of the people Arthur had spoken with the day of the robbery. He began interviewing the police eyewitnesses who put Arthur in the Juice Club with a gun in his hand and discovered that their identification of him might not be all that solid. He learned that police—even though they had no additional eyewitness identifications—were looking at Arthur in connection with several other similar robberies, which was good for Arthur, since it could clearly be established that he was in school at the time some of those occurred. Marshall also learned about the business of the hat, how the Lakers cap had been brought from Kaiwi's apartment and placed on Arthur's head, perhaps prejudicing the eyewitnesses and destroying any possibility that it could be tested for traces of the real robber. That this had been done flabbergasted Marshall: never in all his time as a police officer had he seen such a flouting of the principal that the chain of evidence must be maintained inviolate.
To Marshall, the whole case seemed incredibly shaky: a 33-year-old Hawaiian man partnering up with a 16-year-old Latino to pull an armed robbery? The age difference alone just didn't make any sense; moreover, Marshall knew from experience that different ethnic groups tended to stick with their own when it comes to crime.
It began to seem to Marshall that Arthur was being railroaded. But he comforted himself with the thought that because the police case was so weak it would probably never come to trial.
The police continued a desultory investigation. Investigator Cain contacted Hildabrand and Schwartz, the two customers in the Juice Club, and showed them photos of possible robbery suspects. Neither could identify Arthur as the gunman. Cain and his partner, Montgomery, checked out the route from Kaiwi's apartment, across the 73 freeway to Hoffman's sound wall, and from there to Pierce, where Arthur had been detained. Since Arthur had been dressed differently from the way witnesses described the robber, they looked for discarded clothing. They found none. Cain also spent some time trying to close one of the big gaps in the facts of the case: How had 33-year-old Kaiwi and 16-year-old Arthur come to know each other in the first place? When he was first questioned, Kaiwi had offered the wild tale about being carjacked, but since Kaiwi had ended up with the gun, the backpack and the Lakers cap, this was clearly preposterous. Put together in a police vehicle after their arrest, the two hadn't spoken to each other, had barely acknowledged the other's presence. This was highly unusual. How had the two come to know each other? Hoping for some answers, Cain tried to track down Kaiwi's ex-girlfriend. But this came to nothing, and for a prosaic enough reason: as he wrote in his report, Cain simply couldn't recall her name.
And that's the way it went, the officers filing report after report. They make curious reading. Reading these reports, you get the feeling that you are looking at the case in a mirror wavering with imperfections that highlight with crystal clarity here, obscure with a maddening optic fog there. One report may omit the name of a key contact—Kaiwi's girlfriend, for instance—or fail to record the time when some key event occurred. And the next report you pick up will zero in with a crystal focus on some bit of information that means nothing.
The CD case in the gray pickup, the CD case upon which Arthur's prints were not found? It was Ice Cube's Lethal Injection:Bootleg and B-sides.
Ruiz was convinced that Arthur could not have committed the robbery. Out of pride or nervousness or simple excitement, a 16-year-old would have let some sign of what he'd done slip to friends. Especially if what he'd done involved a 33-year-old man and a gun. But none of Arthur's friends knew anything. Ruiz's own children, with whom Arthur was very close, knew nothing. Mom, they told her, Art just hung out with kids.
Like Marshall, she was sure the case would never come to trial.
But it did come to trial. Because those in the police and the district attorney's office have refused to talk, the process by which this occurred remains obscure. The police had several armed robberies on their books. Perhaps they saw a way to clear those cases and reassure the business community. The official in the district attorney's office responsible for determining which cases to proceed on was new to the job. Perhaps he was simply out to make his mark.
The trial itself, which took place before Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey Oct. 13-21, 1998, was a curious affair. Arthur was charged with the Juice Club robbery and a similar robbery late at night a couple of days earlier at a Costa Mesa Denny's. Since there was absolutely no physical evidence connecting Arthur with either crime, the state's case depended on the eyewitness identifications. But as that case unfolded, as presented by deputy district attorney Jana Hoffman (no relation to witness Christine Hoffman), the testimony showed those eyewitness identifications to be less than solid. For instance, Joseph Kim, one of the employees at the Juice Bar, testified he just wasn't sure the robber was Arthur and only identified him after police put the infamous Lakers cap on his head. Samuel Ku, another Juice Club employee, couldn't identify Arthur in court. Cashion, the man who had jotted down the license-plate number of the getaway truck, testified that "basically, all I could give the police officers was that his body shape was the right size." Christine Hoffman, who saw a man climbing over her sound wall, testified that it was only the Lakers cap that "concreted in my mind that it was him." George Algie, a witness at the Denny's robbery, testified that when he was shown a photo lineup after the robbery, the picture of Arthur was merely the one "closest" to that of the robber. Casey Becerra, another witness at the Denny's robbery, testified that she made her identification of Arthur based on his eyes. There was confusion on other points as well. Both Kim and Algie testified that the robber held the gun in his right hand. Arthur is left-handed.
Arthur's court-appointed attorney was Kenneth Reed, an experienced criminal lawyer who had tried more than 80 jury cases. During his cross examinations, he was able to show how less-than-solid the eyewitness testimony was—how so much of it depended upon the placing of the Lakers cap on Arthur's head. He was able to prod police officers into a couple of ludicrous gaffes: it was only after repeated questioning, for instance, that Sanders finally decided he remembered drawing his gun when he detained Arthur on Pierce Avenue.
But when it came time for Reed to put on a case in defense of Arthur, there were some glaring omissions. As part of his plea bargain, Kaiwi had signed a perfunctory statement of a couple of sentences naming Arthur as the robber. Kaiwi got two years and was sent to prison. There, he was visited by Reed's investigator, George Rowell. According to Rowell's report, Kaiwi "started the interview by saying he did not know Arthur Carmona prior to his arrest. Kaiwi said the first time he saw [Arthur] was when he was driven by to attempt to ID [Arthur] in the field. The only other time Kaiwi said he saw [Arthur] was when they were both placed in the back seat of a police unit. Kaiwi said he wanted me to tell [Arthur] and his family that 'he didn't have anything to do with it.' And 'I know he wasn't involved in it.'"
Rowell also visited Kaiwi's mother, Julei Kaiwi, with whom he'd been living at the time of the robbery. "I showed Julei a picture of Arthur," Rowell reported, "and asked her if she had ever seen him at her residence. Julei looked at the picture and said, 'He doesn't look familiar.' Julei said she did not recognize the name 'Arthur Carmona.'"
Reed, however, did not compel Kaiwi to testify. Nor did he call to the stand any of the people who would have testified that they saw Arthur or spoke with him on the phone the afternoon of the Juice Club robbery. He did not call to the stand any character witnesses—Arthur's pastor or his teachers, for instance. He did not call any unbiased experts to discuss the difficulties of eyewitness identifications across ethnic lines. Even though there was a sense among observers that some jurors were waiting for something positive from the defense to solidify their doubts about the prosecution case, Reed did not put his own client on the stand. (He had visited Arthur only once in jail before the trial to hear his story, anyway.) In fact, the only defense witnesses were Ronnie Carmona and Arthur's sister, Veronica.
Perhaps Reed's most glaring omission was the fact that he made no attempt to exclude the eyewitness identifications of Arthur based on the infamous Lakers cap incident.
On Oct. 21, 1998, Reed stood before the jury and offered his summation. He began passionately. "Ladies and gentlemen, there is a constant in the criminal law," he said.
"It's the same from Bangor, Maine, down to the Florida Keys. No different from Alaska than San Ysidro at the foot of the state. . . . That constant is that no state, no federal prosecutor . . . may take the life, liberty of the individual of a person without first proving that that person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." But the summation quickly became unfocussed and rambling, its clarity not helped by the fact that the judge interrupted it for a short recess—because one of the deputy marshals responsible for Arthur was nodding off. Reed concluded on a note that was almost desperate. "I've been up here today over 50 minutes but been up here for the better part of an hour, and my voice is getting dry, and I am tired, and I am missing things," he said. "I write these notes, and I get wound up and forget what I am saying, so I will stop. . . . We go to law school, got to give us a chance to talk to you. Part of the rules. We need to be able to talk and say what we feel. We need to argue. I made arguments or said things, objected, argumentative. This is the time for me to argue to you. . . . So when I sit down, I know I have forgotten something because I've forgotten something every time I've done this."
Reed went on like that, gradually wound down, and then stopped completely.
Jana Hoffman made her closing argument. She acknowledged blunders by the police but argued to the jurors that these didn't matter because Arthur had been positively identified by eight eyewitnesses. This was not true but went unchallenged.
The jurors retired to deliberate.
Arthur was found guilty.
And there this story might have ended were it not for the fact that fate finally intervened on Arthur's side. Although devastated by the verdict, both Carmona and Ruiz refused to give up. They called Dana Parsons, columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Parsons got an overview of the case, and a couple of things immediately jumped out at him: the police use of the Lakers cap, the disparity in ages between Kaiwi and Arthur. He couldn't be sure of Arthur's innocence, of course. But what did impress him was the unfairness of his conviction.
Parsons then proceeded to do something astonishing—particularly for Orange County and its often lackluster journalism scene: he began his own investigation of the case. He read the entire 700-plus-page trial transcript. He attempted to interview witnesses, police officers, investigators, attorneys, experts in eyewitness testimony. And then he wrote a series of nine columns questioning Arthur's conviction. Those columns contained a number of interesting revelations. Christine Hoffman, for instance, said that she believed that Arthur had been arrested wearing the Lakers cap. Casey Becerra, the witness from the Denny's robbery, said authorities misled her into believing that physical evidence tied Arthur to the case. A juror said he harbored grave doubts about Arthur's guilt and had been waiting for the defense to put on some alibi witnesses. Parsons also spoke with Arthur's friends; his relatives; his teachers; and his pastor, who had been visiting Arthur constantly in jail. All expressed amazement at his arrest and conviction. A basically good kid, they said, with a disability that really would have made it nearly impossible for him to act the way police said he did.
Parsons even tried to talk with newly elected District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas. The DA's response: he had complete faith in Jana Hoffman.
Santa Ana attorney Mark Devore took on Arthur's case. His investigator, a former LAPD officer named Robert Navarro, collected statements from Arthur's friends, establishing his alibi. Devore filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that there was insufficient evidence for his conviction and that he had been inadequately represented by Reed.
On June 10, Judge Dickey turned down the appeal. In a statement that was less than explanatory, Dickey said, "The court can't really grant a new trial for the purpose of trying the whole thing again. No trial is ever perfect."
Dickey sentenced Arthur to 12 years in prison.
And there the story of Arthur Carmona now hangs, in a kind of suspension.
The Los Angeles office of the highly respected Chicago-based law firm Sidley & Austin has taken on Arthur's case pro bono and has filed a notice of appeal.
Absolutely convinced of her son's innocence, Ronnie Carmona has been busy drumming up support, particularly in the Latino community, where the case is viewed by some as a potential watershed in the way the Rodney King case was for African-Americans. For one thing, Carmona hopes to raise enough money to launch an independent investigation. Private investigator Dave Marshall would gladly help with that investigation. So would private investigator Robert Navarro, a veteran of 28 years with the LAPD who said that not only does he believe that Arthur is not guilty, but he also believes Arthur is totally innocent.
Mona Ruiz continues to shake her head, trying to understand. In putting together the case against her nephew, police officers did things she was taught in the police academy were wrong. Was it that they were inexperienced or perhaps just rushing to judgment? She does not know. She tries to keep Arthur's spirits up; she reminds him to guard against bitterness; she counsels him to have faith.
And what of the others?
Deputy DA Jana Hoffman declined to comment, as did Investigator Cain. Attorney Reed would not comment about the case either.
Parsons goes over the case again and again, looking for the elusive answer.
And Arthur? He speaks to me through the thick jail glass, through the faint hum of the connecting phone. He tells me that he is doing schoolwork, finding out about college courses, reading a lot of books, working out, drawing. He tells me that he tries to stay hopeful, that he tries to draw strength from the visits of friends and family.
He tells me that he dreams of being a chef, that he dreams of owning his own restaurant.
He tells me that he dreams.
At the end of July, Arthur Carmona was moved from the Santa Ana Jail to the State Youth Authority for evaluation and eventual transfer to a youth facility. He will remain there until he is 18. After that, he will be sent to a state prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss OC Weekly's biggest stories. Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts